Why a female lead character is not ‘bad design’
Since this article has attracted a lot of attention and criticism, I think it’s important that I clarify why I wrote it in the first place:
- We’d just come back from Eurogamer Expo (EGX London!), having been asked repeatedly why we’d chosen to go with a female lead character in our game.
- Our artists were congratulated for keeping her clothes on.
- We’ve been asked many times (mostly in the good spirit of a joke) to show Kai Tana wearing more revealing clothes.
- Seeing the comment on YouTube brought points 1) 2) and 3) into sharp focus, and I felt I should write about why Kai Tana is the way she is, and why she’ll never be shown scantily clad by our team.
The post below was therefore not solely in response to a single YouTube commenter, but a series of events that were addressed together.
Lt. Kai Tana – saviour of the galaxy, pilot of the teleporting Quarp Jet and master of the humble jump – is female.
One of the few benefits of internet anonymity permits us to use this comment from our YouTube page without repercussion for the person who wrote it:
“I was excited about this ’till I realised it doesn’t a have male lead character, the female protagonist is a huge turn off and deal breaker. What were they thinking when they designed this? An otherwise solid game suffers for bad design like this.”
At the Eurogamer Expo we were asked many times why we’d chosen to go for a female lead character in our upcoming title Velocity 2X. The simple reason is that it’s a sequel to Velocity Ultra, in which Lt. Kai Tana was the pilot.
However, we are also asked very often to release illustrations of Kai Tana in bathing suits or more revealing clothes. We always refuse, but now seems a good time to explain why that will never, ever happen:
When my father died at age 63, I was a 15yr old boy who had no clue who he was. I was confused and frustrated about life and death, but my mother was incredibly strong and resolved, and went back to work immediately to continue providing for us both. She set the example, and I followed. I threw myself into my passions with a clearer understanding of how precious and finite life is.
Independent strength and resolve is very common among the women in my family, and looking back it’s likely that which attracted me so strongly to characters like Ripley and Sarah Connor. They reflected the truth about the females I knew, and as I grew up I found myself far more attracted to independently minded girls than those dependent on males for validation. My first real job cemented my already deep respect for women as it was a wonderful place to work that felt like a family, all because it was under careful balance by a strong, independent woman.
So when I first met my girlfriend, it was the fierce independence and mental strength that caused me to fall in love within hours, and to move in within days.
When Velocity was in development, I decided to base the lead character on my girlfriend, giving photographs of her to the artist responsible for the illustrations. I did this not just as a romantic gesture, but also to pay homage to the strong female characters in science fiction that have inspired me, and of course the females in my life. Hell, I even named the character after my niece, who had the guts to make incredibly frightening life choices for the better.
For me, women have always been inspiring, strong, powerful and magnificent, so I find it morbidly fascinating to hear people like the YouTube commenter believing that choosing a female lead is bad design. Claiming bad design is an objective statement, not an expression of personal preference. That kind of thinking is so out of date it’s almost laughable, but it’s tragic because it highlights a severe lack of empathy, and it’s lack of empathy that is at the heart of all humanity’s problems.
This article is a small attempt at steering out-of-date thought in a better direction.
Finally, for the record, Lt. Kai Tana was not inspired by Samus Aran, as I’ve never played Metroid.
[UPDATE: This line about Metroid is irritating some people. I played a ton of Turrican 2, Super Probotector, Flashback and of course Sonic the Hedgehog. I had a lifetime of inspiration in those games. I will get around to playing Metroid of course, but not whilst we’re making this game. We designed Velocity without playing modern shoot ’em-ups like Ikaruga or the Cave bullet-hell shooters because we wanted to focus on the mechanics we had, and not be swayed by what other games are doing. This interview has the most straightforward reasoning as to why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9qtW-Melnk&feature=youtu.be&t=7m48s]